Natural Ways to Treat Norovirus Symptoms

Prevention is the first line of defense
lemon slices and ginger in hot water for tea
Photo by Dominik Martin on Unsplash

A sudden bout of diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and stomach cramps may mean you have contracted norovirus, a commonly occurring stomach bug that causes inflammation and infection in the gastrointestinal tract. Often referred to as the stomach flu, it bears no relation to influenza and there is no vaccine to prevent it. Highly contagious, noroviruses spread rapidly through contact with infected persons or contaminated surfaces, and by consuming contaminated food or water, making schools, daycares, hospitals, and other busy public places fertile breeding grounds for this nasty virus. Once you’ve been exposed to norovirus, symptoms occur rapidly, typically within 12–48 hours. You’re contagious from the moment you begin feeling ill and can remain so for up to two weeks post-recovery.

Symptoms of norovirus usually begin suddenly: vomiting and diarrhea are the most common side effects, with kids more likely to experience vomiting, while adults are generally more prone to diarrhea. Other potential symptoms include low grade fever, headache, chills, muscle aches, and fatigue. Thankfully, the acute phase doesn’t usually last longer than 48 hours, but patients can feel weak for weeks to months afterwards.  

Hands-Free Healing: Although you can remain contagious for up to two weeks afterward, you are most contagious during, and within the first few days following, contraction of norovirus. Since norovirus can be transferred from contact with vomit or feces (both directly and through aerosolized particles), The Center for Disease Control recommends that infected patients refrain from preparing food or providing healthcare for at least two days after symptoms cease.

An Ounce of Prevention

The best way to treat norovirus is to not contract it at all! Adopt the following habits to reduce your chance of catching it.

Clean hands club: Proper handwashing can’t be stressed enough when it comes to warding off this unpleasant illness. Always use soap and warm water and teach your kids to wash regularly and properly, making sure that they wash between their fingers, the backs of their hands, and around the wrists as well. Confirm that childcare providers are also washing their hands well: institutions must have procedures posted in hand washing stations. This is particularly important after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and before eating or preparing food.

A note on hand sanitizer: Norovirus is an enclosed virus, meaning it is enveloped in a protein-based shield called a capsid. Alcohol can’t get through it, rendering alcohol-based hand sanitizers ineffective. While alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be valuable in certain situations, you should never use it as a substitute for soap and water handwashing.

Raw deal: Proceed with caution when consuming raw or undercooked oysters or shellfish as they could come from water contaminated by norovirus.

Clear the air: If someone in your family has norovirus, one of the keys to stopping the spread is to thoroughly clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces with hydrogen peroxide, and to wash all towels, sheets, and clothing in very hot water after illness.

ON THE ROAD TO RECOVERY

Vomiting and diarrhea are the body's way of eliminating toxins so we don't want to suppress the expulsion of the virus. Rather, we want to focus on maintaining hydration and comfort while norovirus works its way out. In addition, it’s important to reinforce your system afterward with a healthy diet and possibly a quality probiotic.

Dehydration is the biggest concern with norovirus and treatment must include a rehydration plan. Encourage regular and small sips of clear fluids like water, bone broth, herbal teas, coconut water, and breastmilk (if this is an option). Identifying dehydration in your child is important, so be on the lookout for symptoms that include sticky or dry tongue, no tears when crying, rapid pulse, and concentrated colour and odour in urine. If these are present and your child is unable to retain or consume any fluids, seek medical support immediately for rehydration.  

Bone Broth

Brimming with nutrients, a bowl of nourishing bone broth isn’t just therapeutic for body and soul, it’s also very simple to make! Perfect for recovery post-norovirus, choose bones from pastured animals as they yield the most collagen-rich, mineral-dense, and flavourful stock.

Ingredients:

3–4 lbs chicken carcass
2 onions, cut in half
2 celery stalks, cut in half
2 carrots, cut in thirds
4 whole cloves garlic
3 slices of fresh turmeric and/or ginger
2 tsp kosher salt
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar

Instructions:
 
1. Place all ingredients in a large pot. Cover with enough clean, cold water to fill the pot. Let stand for 20 minutes to one hour to allow the apple cider vinegar to draw the minerals from the bones.
2. Bring pot to gentle boil. Remove scum that rises to the top, discard.
3. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 8 to 24 hours.
4. Let cool and strain.
* Can also be made in a slow cooker on low setting for 24 hours.

Healing Herbal Toolkit

Having a few healing herbs on hand is a great way to be able to offer some relief in a pinch. The following herbs are wonderful soothing and hydrating helpers for when your little one is dealing with gastrointestinal upset! (PS…they’re great for grownups too!)

Ginger and Mint both contain antispasmodic and anti-nausea properties. A great first step for any gastrointestinal upset, they can be consumed in the form of tea, tincture, sucking candies, capsules, or by diffusing their essential oils.  

Chamomile is excellent for soothing tummies. Makes a delicious tea.

Red Raspberry Leaf is high in tannins with an astringent effect on the digestive tract, reducing inflammation and volume of stool. Makes a great tea.   

Marshmallow Root tea or syrup is indicated if there is any burning when passing stool as it will soothe irritated tissue while absorbing excess fluid in the colon.  

Slippery Elm soothes the digestive tract on contact, coating the lining of the gut, and stopping diarrhea. Mix slippery elm powder with a small amount of boiled water to create a thin porridge concoction.

Cinnamon warms the intestines and lower gastrointestinal tract, easing cramps and reducing diarrhea. It’s also anti-microbial which will help stop the spread of the virus. Mix ½ tsp of cinnamon powder in 1 cup boiling water and steep for 10 minutes. Sweeten with raw honey (not for kids under 1 year old) and give by the tablespoon, as needed. Remedy loose stools by mixing a little cinnamon with unsweetened applesauce. The pectin in the applesauce will help to solidify the bowel movements while the cinnamon prevents gas and cramping.

Calendula Salve or Coconut Oil gently applied to the anus can help alleviate the discomfort of irritation caused by continued defecation and wiping.


Feed the Flu? There is no need to force your child to eat if they’re not hungry, but if they are, encourage dry toast, crackers, unsweetened applesauce, rice, and bananas. Avoid dairy, sugar, and fatty or overly spicy foods.

R&R True for all illnesses, getting plenty of rest and relaxation helps your body recover and regenerate.

Warm Welcome A hot water bottle, heating pad, or warm compress over the abdomen can be very comforting and soothing.

Probiotic Power! Probiotics are essential for replenishing the microbiome after the relentless evacuation of all contents. Choose one that is multi-strain and which must be kept refrigerated for maximum benefit.

Red Flags: Norovirus can be dangerous for very young, very old, or immunocompromised patients. Seek immediate medical attention if there is blood present in the vomit or diarrhea, if high fever accompanies the gastrointestinal symptoms, if vomiting persists past 48 hours, or if these symptoms are present in babies under 6 months of age.  

This common, unpleasant virus is lurking in many of the spaces we frequent. While prevention is the best way to prevent norovirus from taking hold, a solid treatment plan that features rehydration, hygiene, and recovery can keep norovirus from causing more serious complications and prevent it from spreading to others.

 

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